Lower Antelope Canyon can only be visited with a Navajo guide, you can’t walk through it alone. And we were on a one-hour tour, with 20 other people. That means no stopping, you just walk through this narrow slot canyon for an hour. So I tried not to get too ambitious and just had paper and a couple of pencils in my hand as we walked across what looked like parched, brown, and rocky land.
And then we descended steeply into the slot canyon and everything changed. The lines on the striated rock got more dramatic and twisty and the colors got super-saturated.I tried to capture it all n quick sketches as we walked. It was clear my pencil-setup was not going to work.
When our guide paused briefly to point out a formation that looked like a lion’s head, I pulled out a pen, hoping the line would add the drama I needed to my sketches.
But it just wasn’t enough. So I dragged out my tiny pocket palette, brush and water, and juggled them all as we kept walking through these crazy spaces, trying to capture the unbelievable colors and formations around me.
Antelope Canyon is amazing. Yes, I’d seen photographs of it, but I’d always assumed they looked like they did because they involved a fair amount of post-production magic… not so, the place is truly magical, and the colors are unreal.
I drew page after page, throwing color and line at the page in an attempt to capture the swirling canyon. All the while, I walked the narrow, twisting spaces, trailing the group, trying not to hit my head on an overhang…Maybe all my sketches looked the same and I could have stopped at one, but I didn’t know that, I sketched because it was the only way for me to really see and process the place. To sketch something is to look at it closely, to see every nook and cranny, and register texture and surface. It is like touching every inch of that rock, feeling the graininess and bumps and color, all with your eyes.
And then as suddenly as we descended, we were out of the canyon, back above ground. And it seemed unbelievable that just below this everyday place was that magical one.
Antelope Canyon lies within the Navajo Nation. Just as you cannot help notice how startlingly spectacular the landscape is, there is no way to ignore the poverty and lack of infrastructure here. The former, I knew I’d see. The latter, I was ignorant about, and it truly startled me. I’m looking for a good book about (or set in) the Navajo Nation, one that might shed some light on the people, their history and their current lives. If you know of one you can recommend, leave me a comment.
One last quick stop after Antelope Canyon: Horseshoe Bend, an oxbow lake. I remember this diagram so clearly from my 8th grade geography book (image courtesy of BBC Bitesize Geography) but Ive never seen an oxbow lake before.
Horseshoe Bend didn’t disappoint, it was a textbook oxbow lake, and pretty dramatic when viewed from the edge of the deep canyon it cut.
Other posts from this road trip so far:
Coming up next: The much-quieter magic of Mesa Verde